We are Air Asia frequent fliers. We have gotten some great deals on flights. I was surprised, however, to hear about the Air Asia Island Transfer Service, which allows you to pay for a flight, bus ticket, and ferry, all at once to help you get to various islands throughout Thailand. Although a little hesitant to book it, we figured it was worth a shot and made our way to Koh Phangan, a small island close to Koh Samui, Thailand.
We left our taxi after arriving at the “Air Asia” Airport in Bangkok, Don Mueang. We checked in for our domestic flight with no problems and a short line. We were extremely early as surprisingly we hit zero traffic at 8 am coming from our hotel.
We were, as expected, asked about our destination, and I honestly had no idea because of the Air Asia Island Transfer Service. I blurted out Koh Phangan, but knew that was not it. There is no airport on the island. As Eric tried to find the name of the airport (Nakhon Si Thammarat), the agent used our passports to find our flight. Although our luggage tag listed Phangan (Thong Sala Pier) as the final destination, the agent informed us that we needed to collect our bags at the airport and follow the signs to the bus that would take us to the ferry pier.
When we arrived in N.S. Thammarat, there was a large Air Asia connect sign right next to the baggage claim showing the Air Asia Island Transfer Service. We showed them our boarding pass from the flight, they checked our name off, and gave us a little sticker for our t-shirt. We grabbed our bags and followed the mass of people out to a large double decker charter bus.
The bus was fairly nice, comfy seats, with decent leg room, even if it looked a little like an 80s pimp mobile. Like most buses in Southeast Asia, though, they immediately put on a movie. This ride’s feature film was Resident Evil. As they changed the chosen language, they ended up putting on the actors’ commentary instead of the actual movie, making the ride that much more unbearable, with Michelle Rodriguez’s voice even breaking through my headphones.
The bus ride took about an hour and a half. They deposited us at the ferry pier, we grabbed our bags, and were told where to check in for the ferry – once again next to the large Air Asia connect sign. The bus included passengers making their way to Koh Samui as well as Koh Phangan. The ferry to Koh Samui was leaving immediately, and we watched everyone rush off. Our ferry was not for over two hours. There were four of us from the bus who waited. I knew things were going too seamlessly to that point.
There is a small waiting area with a restaurant serving Thai and some western food, as well as a convenience store. There was a warm breeze coming in off the patio, and a misty rain that clouded the view. We patiently waited for the ferry to leave, while eating a little snack.
The ferry was large, with plenty of room for both passengers and cars. It was also the slow boat – about 2.5 hours of slow going, with quicker paced catamarans speeding past. The ferry also showed its age a bit, but had a convenience store and bathrooms, and seats that reclined sufficiently to catch a nap on board.
As the ferry slowly approached the island at a snail’s pace, the rain picked up a bit. We patiently exited the ferry through the car ramp and were bombarded by taxi drivers, both motorbike taxis, and pick up taxis. They list prices on a chart, but there is room for negotiation. They asked us for between 250-500 baht a person, even though we were only going about 5 minutes from the pier. We told them the hotel informed us the price would be 50-100 baht. We were ultimately charged 100 baht per person.
The ride to the hotel was quick, but we calculated the time. We left the hotel at 8 am and arrived at the hotel close to 7pm, making it almost an 11 hour day. It was certainly not the most speedy form of transport.
The return was not as smooth as the arrival. Our hotel dropped us at the Air Asia check in counter, to the right of the pier. The agent provided us our boarding pass for the ferry and another sticker for our t-shirts. A little train drove us to the ferry, which was even older than the first one, with bathrooms that had a lot to be desired.
We were herded to the bus on arrival at the pier. The return bus was certainly not as nice as the first one. The bus was packed, the seats closer together with less leg room, and the air conditioning was not working all that well – leaving the bus moist, with a strange stale odor, and liquid leaking from the ceiling onto my seat, making me squeeze into the only other seat available on the bus. There at least, thankfully, was no loud music playing.
The check in at NST airport also did not go as smoothly, and the airport has a lot to be desired on the amenity front, with two small restaurants upstairs, and nothing more. And, after an hour plus taxi ride in Bangkok, having landed at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday, we ended up spending more time in the taxi than the Air Asia flight.
Total Cost Round Trip: $243 for two people, round trip, or about $60 each person, one way, an Air Asia “Economy Promo” price.
Alternatives: It is possible to fly to Koh Samui, and then take a speed boat to Koh Phangan, which will take less time and cost more. There is also an alternative route from Bangkok using a train, bus, and ferry combination, which can take 15-20 hours, which will cost less than the Air Asia combo. For us, as much as it was a long day, the cost and time ratio I think was worth it. But, next time, I would at least look at the cost of flights to Koh Samui to see if there are any deals.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.